The 2020 Masters lived up to the hype with four days of outstanding golf and the best player in the world, Dustin Johnson, standing out above the rest. While he won’t play this week, 37 other golfers will make the short trip east from Augusta National to the Georgia coast for the RSM Classic, which is hosted by Davis Love III.
Webb Simpson and Sungjae Im will headline this week’s stronger-than-normal field in Simons Island. The tournament is typically one that draws a number of local players, but not the level of players that are playing this week. Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Shane Lowry are notable first-time participants in the event, which will make for some exciting golf as the TOUR winds down the 2020 portion of this new season.
This event has seen winners post between 17- and 22-under par over the past five years, so we can certainly expect low scores this week. One unique aspect of the RSM Classic is that the tournament is held across two courses at the Sea Island Resort, as the Plantation Course will host each player during one opening round on Thursday or Friday before turning the weekend entirely to the Seaside Course. Players who make the cut will play three rounds on the Seaside Course and one on the Plantation Course.
The Plantation Course is set up to play as a 7,060 yard, par-72 this week, which is really short by TOUR standards for a par 72. It will be featured for just one round by each player and played nearly two strokes under par across the field in 2019. Last year was also the first time the course hosted the TOUR since Davis Love III completed its renovation. In fact, it had just opened back up in October prior to hosting this event in November of last year.
The course has paspalum tees and fairways, but will feature 1.5-inch Bermuda grass rough and Bermuda greens that will roll at a friendly 11.5 to 12.5 on the stimpmeter. It is set up to be a resort course, and these players will be able to attack it as such. The biggest key will be avoiding the ten water hazards in play on just over half of the course, and taking advantage of the four par 5s.
While three-quarters of this tournament will be played on the Seaside Course, it will be the Plantation Course that will set the tone for players to start the week. It will be imperative that they play well on the easier track that saw a 4-under cutline in 2019, and we could see even better scoring than that this week with a stronger field. The dual courses on Thursday and Friday will also create an edge in Showdown, as you can focus entirely on players playing the Plantation and position yourself for better scoring opportunities in DFS.
Since most of the key shots throughout the week will be on the Seaside Course, I will put most of my focus there for this article. It will set up just short of the Plantation Course’s distance at 7,005 yards, but it will play to a par 70 with just two par 5s. The players will get the same grass types on both courses, as the primary course this week will also have Bermuda grass greens, but they will roll quicker at over 13 on the stimpmeter on some holes. There will also be an extra half-inch of Bermuda rough for players to deal with as they look to navigate around 14 water hazards and 47 sand bunkers.
Even with just two par 5s on the Seaside Course, they will be important scoring opportunities for players as they annually play as the two easiest holes on the course. The seventh hole plays nearly a quarter stroke under par, yielding birdies more than 34% of the time at just 569 yards. Despite the relatively short length, eagle is not really in play. It requires a good drive to avoid the water down the right and a perfect approach to the large undulating green.
While the seventh provides a good scoring opportunity, it is nothing compared to the par-5 15th. The 530-yard hole is nothing more than a difficult par 4 as anything worse than a birdie is a poor result. The field has birdied this hold more than half the time during prior RSM Classics and are making eagle at nearly a 5% clip. Simply put, players will be losing strokes to the field with anything par or worse at the 15th.
Last year’s winner, Tyler Duncan, didn’t just take apart the Plantation Course in route to his playoff victory over Simpson at last year’s RSM Classic, he also took apart the par 3s throughout the week. Duncan averaged a remarkable 2.56 strokes on the par 3s during the week, which is even more impressive when considering that the third and 12th holes both play over 200 yards and the field shot over par on those.
Ultimately, this year’s RSM Classic will be decided across the twelve par 4s, which make up five of the seven holes on the course that play over par. Only five of the par 4s play over 420 yards, with the 465-yard final hole being the longest of the bunch.
The 18th has historically played just over par, only giving up birdies 10% of the time with bogey or worse being registered more than 29% of the time. It requires both length and accuracy off the tee between strategically placed fairway bunkers and into a green protected further by additional bunkering. In an event that has seen a playoff or a one-stroke margin in three of the last four years, the 18th provides great drama as the leaders look to close out the RSM Classic.
Georgia Bulldog Kevin Kisner has a great track record in what’s nearly a home event for him. He has top-seven finishes in three of the last five years. Oddly, he also has two missed cuts and missed the cut last week at the Masters, making him a bit of a GPP play from a DFS perspective, but I doubt many will allow the 2015 champion of this event to slip through the cracks.
Simpson has a couple of courses around the TOUR circuit where you simply know he is going to be one of the players with the best odds to win that week. The Wyndham is certainly the first tournament that comes to mind, but the RSM Classic is closing quickly in second. Webb is yet to break through for a win but as noted, he lost in a playoff to Duncan last year and finished third the year before. He will come in with the lowest odds to win this week after a 10th-place finish at Augusta, and his prior results certainly solidify that.
Georgia native, Charles Howell III, has a similar track record to Kisner. He has a 2018 win here, surrounded by two missed cuts, a 13th and a ninth. Howell has always been a player known to do better around the southeast and on Bermuda grass putting surfaces, so it comes at no surprise to see his success at the RSM Classic.
A course history name that certainly surprised me is Henrik Norlander. He’s made the cut at the RSM Classic each of the last four years, including two top-five finishes. Norlander finished second to Kisner back in 2015 and came in fifth last year. Hopefully, the good vibes of an area where he has had success will help to turn his game around, having entered the tournament coming off two missed cuts.
Pictured: Kevin Kisner
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images